by Bob Herpen
Phanatic Hockey Editor
Later this evening, a very special event will take place, as Mark Howe's #2 will be raised to the rafters, the fifth official ceremony in Flyers franchise history.
We'll skip over the argument that the honor lacks the proper timeliness, as I've covered that subject in one of my early posts for the The Phanatic roughly 4 1/2 years ago when the distance between that date and Bill Barber's retired jersey ceremony was a mere 16-plus years.
What makes tonight's celebration noteworthy is that it will mark the first time in club lore that a player who had nothing to do with a championship will be so honored.
We all know the roles Bernie Parent (1), Barber (7) and Bobby Clarke (16) made to the back-to-back Stanley Cups in 1974-75, and are also aware of the special nature of Barry Ashbee's (4) contributions to the club leading up to the first title as well as the misfortunes that befell him afterwards.
But Howe occupies a unique place in team history, and that location will finally be recognized a generation after it had passed.
The son of legendary Gordie Howe played here from 1982-92, and the peak of that period came from 1984-89. During those five seasons, the steady two-way blueliner acted as on-ice general for two squads which lost to the mighty Edmonton Oilers (1985, 1987) and one which shocked the hockey world by reaching the conference finals and gave the Cup runner-up Montreal Canadiens a run for their money (1989).
Ed Snider has said that Howe's Hall of Fame induction helped push the decision in his favor. Whether Howe would be elected to Hockey's Hall or not should have been immaterial; his presence and his statistics during what should be known as the Renaissance Period for the Orange and Black should have been enough -- and should have been enough for this honor years ago, certainly less than 20 years since he last skated in Philadelphia.
Though Ed Van Impe was an original Flyer and original bearer of that #2, former team captain, and member of two Cup-winning squads, there should be little argument that Howe's credentials overwhelm that. Ditto for the other nine players who have worn the number since 1992.
The 56-year-old holds the single-season points record (82, in 1985-86), as well as the 3rd, 5th, 7th and 9th places in that category; by a long-shot (84 points ahead of Eric Desjardins with 480) the most career points by a defenseman, as well as most goals and assists, along with the highest single-season plus-minus (plus-85 in '85-'86). He was a three-time Norris finalist, and totally overlooked in favor of players who were either more offensively (Ray Bourque, Paul Coffey) or defensively (Rod Langway) oriented.
Given Howe's impending enshrinement and the place those Mike Keenan/Paul Holmgren-era teams now hold in franchise folklore, it's time to open up the books and reconfigure the thought process of deciding who gets the treatment.
Under similar conditions, and given there are no other former Flyers of renown up for Hall consideration, Tim Kerr (four 50-plus goal seasons, most all-time points for a RW at 650) should have the edge over Gary Dornhoefer, Reggie Leach (lone 60-goal year, 2nd-most goals for RW, 514 points, Conn Smythe Trophy) gets the nod over Ron Hextall, and Brian Propp (11-plus years of service, 2nd most goals/points for LW) should be favored above Orest Kindrachuk. Dave Poulin also scores a clear victory over Joe Watson.
And since Howe has been outspoken regarding justice for the victims of the Lokomotiv Jaroslavl tragedy, Brad McCrimmon should be posthumously inducted into the Flyers Hall of Fame to cement his place alongside Howe.
If you want to get technical, Ashbee -- not even close to an HOFer -- wasn't even around for the culmination of the first Cup, and, as has been argued by countless fans and media alike, his retired jersey came as a result of special circumstances. So, by that logic, a beloved player beset by fate dictates that Pelle Lindbergh's #31 should garner serious consideration to come out of unofficial retirement and appear in the appropriate fabric.
Whoever should be the next player to have a night in his honor, the decision must be made sooner than 2 1/2 years (Flyers HOF, Schultz in November of 2009) and definitely less than 21 for a retired number.
If we can celebrate Howe for his professional acumen, we can add a layer of gratitude if his inclusion among the greats is cause for a shift a stingy organizational philosophy.